National Careers Week: Improving Careers Opportunities for Young People

Isabella Perales

Account Director

As National Careers Week comes to a close, Isabella Perales, Senior Account Manager in PLMR’s education practice, reflects on the shifting nature of careers advice, from exploring guidance in schools, through to the work experience opportunities available for young people across the country.

With an everchanging education landscape, which increasingly provides a variety of technical options, and a jobs market calling for qualified, skilled and experienced candidates, holistic and diverse careers advice has never been more essential.

As part of the Skills for Jobs White Paper, the government released revised guidance which urges senior leaders to “back their careers team, and to invest in personal guidance provided by a qualified careers adviser”. Their plans encourage the delivery of high-quality, progressive careers programmes that support all students to acquire the knowledge, skills and confidence to fulfil their potential.

More recently, the Education Select Committee launched an inquiry into the effectiveness of careers education in schools and its accessibility for disadvantaged young people. The Committee’s inquiry confirms that levelling up careers education and opportunities for young people is top of the Government agenda, but some are calling for more ambitious careers advice plans, that will achieve the real change Government is hoping for.


Broadening the scope of high-quality careers advice 

In recent years there has been a marked shift towards a better balance of academic and technical education routes being offered in further education. With the introduction of T Levels, the Department for Education’s flagship post-16 technical qualification, there is ever more choice for learners as they progress through their education.

However, many still hold the view that the school curriculum, through primary and lower secondary, imparts a bias towards academic subjects. This is then reaffirmed by careers guidance focused predominantly on academic routes. By default, this combination discourages students from taking a technical route, and disadvantages students who would benefit from work-based learning. With vocational and technical education options on the rise, diverse and well embedded careers advice in schools, which adequately communicate the benefits to technical routes must become the norm if we are going to set young people up for success.

It is essential that every school offers good quality, tailored and comprehensive careers advice to equip learners with the knowledge to make the right choices for them. Educational charity NCFE believes that information and guidance needs to be truly independent, and start from an early age, to ensure learners are aware of all options to make informed and empowered decisions about their education and careers.


Calling on employers for support

Another part of the challenge is the accessibility of work experience for young people from remote regions and underserved communities, particularly young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with special educational needs and disabilities. Without vital real-world learning experience, these young people are at greater risk of getting left behind in comparison to their more advantaged peers. To tackle this, increasing careers accessibility for all young people, regardless of background or ability, must be prioritised to ensure no child is left behind.

West Lea School, an education setting that caters for learners with special educational needs and disabilities, is one school that has been championing access to work experience opportunities for its learners. The school has developed its own supported internship programme, run by award-winning careers coordinator Carline Ikoroha, which connects students with local employers so they may gain essential hands-on work experience. The programme aims to help students develop their confidence, gain new skills and realise their full potential in the world of work, whilst helping employers to welcome new talent and diversify their workforce. The school has also set up another initiative, Enterprise Cooperative Trust, which supports young people in the wider local community to engage with local businesses and obtain work experience, apprenticeships and part-time work.

While good progress can be made by supporting the implementation of high-quality, universally available careers education, one campaign is calling on big businesses to help prepare young people with the knowledge and skills to confidently enter the world of work.  Teach First’s Education Manifesto suggests that large employers can help make work experience more accessible for pupils in remote postcodes. Through developing virtual and ‘blended’ work experience opportunities, this would provide a route to success for many young people by preparing them with the necessary experience employers are looking for.


Greater support for schools’ offer

We know high-quality careers advice is essential for accessing real-world learning opportunities to help young people develop aspirations, self-confidence and long-term engagement with learning. As things stand, careers advice is typically spoken about in secondary school, as students look at their GCSE options. There are increased calls to go further by offering careers advice earlier in a child’s education.

The eight Gatsby benchmarks, published in 2013 by Sir John Holman, set the standard on good careers guidance. To give all young people a better chance of achieving their potential, careers advice can start as early as primary school, so that young people don’t prematurely rule themselves out of certain career paths.

Starting early, encouraging a broad range of routes, and using the Gatsby benchmarks would provide a stable course of careers advice throughout a child’s education, and ensure they have exposure to technical and academic education from a young age, while also having opportunities to gain valuable experience, particularly with the help of big businesses.

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